Presentation Folklore and Myths – Part 1

May 19, 2015

Ask most people how to give a good presentation and the response is likely to include a few common myths that are often regurgitated. Rather than help you to give a great presentation these snippets of presentation folklore will often be a hindrance and not a help.

This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight the myths and point you in the right direction to make sure your next presentation is effective.

Common myths include:

“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

“You shouldn’t wave you hands around when you talk”

“To reduce the nervous tension imagine that your audience is in the nude, or sitting on a toilet”

“Your slides make a good handout”

“Always ask if anyone has any questions at the end to make sure that they have understood you.”

 Unfortunately, while these things are said with the best of intentions, they are often open to being misunderstood.

  1. Tell them, tell them, tell them

The advice to “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” is one of the most misconstrued pieces of advice for a presentation. I’ve also heard this referred to as “Tell then how you are going to bore them. Bore them. Tell them how you bored them”.

You definitely do not want to tell people everything three times!

The first part of this statement “the tell them what you are going to tell them” does not mean put up an agenda slide, by doing so you run the risk of people thinking they know what you are going to say and assuming it will be a boring presentation which is not of interest to them.

A better approach is to start your presentation by making the audience want to listen. To engage your audience’s curiosity about the topic on which you are presenting. Not just tell them what you are going to talk about.

The last part of the statement, “tell them what you told them” means end with a summary. This is okay if you the objective of your presentation is purely information transfer but if you are trying to motivate or persuade your audience you need to end with a call to action, which tells them what you think they should do next.

The majority of presentations in business are not just about transferring information, they are about influencing, motivating and persuading people to do something. As such a summary of the information is a particularly weak ending. Your call to action is the reason you are giving your presentation so make that call to action the last thing you say before you sit down.

  1. Keep your hands still

When I was younger I went on a presentation course and was told not to wave my hands about. I was told to keep them at my side or if I found that too difficult to hold them behind my back. I think this was very bad advice. Some people, me included, naturally talk with their hands. The hand gestures emphasising and re-iterating the spoken word.  Hand gestures can convey enthusiasm and energy and make the presentation far more lively and interesting.

As long as your hand gestures are natural, don’t waste your effort trying to control them, let them emphasize the points you are making.

  1. “To reduce the nervous tension imagine that your audience is in the nude, or sitting on a toilet”

This is a tactic for combating your nerves which has no place in modern business presentations. I agree with the sentiment that your audience are just people like you or me, no more and no less and as such are nothing to be scared of. But I think there are far more successful ways of reducing any nervous anxiety. I have written about this recently in my article Handling Presentation Nerves.

  1. “Your slides make a good handout”

Slides and handouts are two different things which fulfill different purposes. If your slides make a good handout which can be easily understood and digested without your presence then they are not good slides.  Everyone is likely to be reading your slides and not listening to you.

Slides are also known as visual aids, and the clue here is in their name. Visual aids are meant to be pictures which help your audience to understand the message that you are saying. They should create strong mental images that help people to understand and remember what is you said. Handouts need to have far more information in them to replicate the spoken part of your presentation when you are no longer there.

My advice is to prepare a separate document as a handout and then hand it out after you have finished your presentation. See my article on Visual Aids

 5. “End with a Question and Answer Session”

Ending with “Has anyone got any questions?” is definitely the wrong ending for any type of presentation. You want to leave the audience with your summary or call to action ringing in their ears, not with them thinking about your answer to the last question that was asked, or even worse an embarrassing silence because nobody has any questions.

Now I’m not saying you should never ask if anyone has any questions, I always like to encourage audience participation throughout a presentation, but a Q&A session is not the best way to finish a presentation. The end of your presentation should be a call to action that encourages your audience to fulfill the objective of your presentation.

 

That’s all the myths I’m busting this time but in future articles I’ll tackle a few more prominent presentation myths and folklore including:

“People remember more if they see it as well as hear it”

“That what you have to say is so interesting it is worth over running for”

“If you don’t like looking people in the eye, look over their heads or at a point on the back wall”

“You need an ice breaker like a joke at the start of a presentation”

“If your mouth is dry, drink some water”

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All the Best

Graham Young

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